Emma Newman is one of my favorite authors, for three reasons. The first is that Emma writes exactly the sort of urban fantasy I love; combining the supernatural with Shakespearean intrigue and people who just want to be left alone to drink their bloody tea. She’s one of the best urban fantasy authors working today and I’m both unsurprised and delighted that Angry Robot are going to be publishing the first full length Split Worlds novel, Between Two Thorns, in March 2013. The second is that Emma has embraced the opportunities that the internet gives authors and has spread the Split Worlds stories over a variety of different blogs, getting her a large and growing audience and doing something very, if any, other people have thought to do. I’m both honored and delighted that she asked me to host the latest story and the fact she provides an audio reading of every story warms my blackened little podcaster heart to boot.
Oh and fourthly? That book she’s holding isn’t just one of my favorite books of all time, it’s also arguably the prettiest printing of it in years. So she has great taste too.
So, ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, it gives me tremendous pleasure to introduce Emma Newman, introducing the Split Worlds story ‘The First Time’.
-This is the thirty-fifth tale in a year and a day of weekly short stories set in The Split Worlds. If you would like me to read it to you instead, you can listen here. You can find links to all the other stories, and the new ones as they are released here. You can also sign up to get the stories delivered to your inbox, one per week for a year and a day.
The First Time
“I still don’t understand why you insisted upon sailing around the continent when we could have travelled through France.” Oliver’s voice had already become tedious and they were only two weeks into the trip.
“I’ve already explained it to you,” Will sipped the Sangria his man had brought aboard from the last stop off. “If we went through France we’d have to go through Paris and we’d be stuck at the Court for months. I have so much family to visit there it would have killed our momentum.” He didn’t add that he’d overheard his brother Nathaniel saying he regretted going to Paris first, when he was still so green. “The first place we’ll set foot in is Greece. That’s where it all began so that’s where our Grand Tour should begin.”
“I thought mankind came from the armpit of Africa.”
“No, western civilisation, you oaf. Philosophy, democracy…”
He closed his eyes and let the Mediterranean sunlight perfuse his skin. He’d waited so long for this. The last six months had been an agony of counting days down until the one he and Oli left the Nether, then England and Albion behind. The yacht was perfect, it turned out he didn’t suffer from sea-sickness and stretching ahead of them were four years of travel, culture and-
“Women,” Oli said. “Let’s not forget the women. I hear they’re very beautiful in Greece.” He sat up from the sun lounger, his cheeks, chin and forehead a striking red. “You can’t fool me, William Reticulata-Iris. You’re not looking forward to all the history, you’re looking forward to all the…” Oli waggled his eyebrows up and down.
“The seafood?” Will asked with mock innocence. “Yes, that’s true, I’d forgotten about that.”
“No! The…” Oli’s right elbow jerked out and in from his side a few times and he winked.
Will feigned confusion.
“The rumpy-pumpy!” Oli blasted out. The waiter cleared his throat and went below deck.
“They don’t say that in Mundanus anymore,” Will said. “The footman told me the day before we left. He gave me a list of modern expletives too. Interesting chap.”
“What do they call it?”
“Shagging. And all kinds of other things. Of course, as gentlemen, we’d never actually say anything like that to one of the mundane ladies.”
“I want to have shagging with a woman in every country we visit,” Oli said, lying back down. “The first will be in Greece.”
Will smirked. Although he’d never admit it, that was on his mind too. The Grand Tour was supposed to broaden their minds and age them just the right amount to return to Nether Society as men rather than boys. Everyone knew that it wasn’t all cultural experience to be gained. Nathaniel made it sound like he’d slept with hundreds of women all over the world. Was that even possible? He’d never spoken to any eligible women without a chaperone present. He tried to imagine what to say to a mundane girl. Where would they meet them in the first place? He’d kissed one of the parlour maids and the governess’ daughter, but both were clumsy, furtive experiences he didn’t care to repeat. Would Greek women kiss differently?
In Greece they took their fill of culture but no opportunities to meet local women presented themselves. Will was keen to move on to Sicily but Oliver insisted they go south first to enjoy northern Africa before the summer heat became unbearable.
They were dazzled by sights and assailed by exotic smells but none of them had anything to do with women. Halfway down the Nile Oliver gave up trying to hide his frustration and moaned about his virginity over cocktails every night. By the time they reached the Old Cataract Hotel Will was fit to abandon his travelling companion and go it alone.
On the second evening he found Oliver talking to a gentleman in the bar. When Will arrived the man clapped Oli on the back and said something that made him chuckle awkwardly. He strode past Will and left them alone with the bartender.
“Will!” Oli jumped up. “I have splendid news!” He steered him onto the terrace. “That was my father’s second cousin twice removed. He’s visiting friends he made on his Grand Tour and he told me about a very exclusive club in the Nether here. One for gentlemen only and they specialise in entertaining chaps on their Grand Tour. Will,” his voice dropped to a whisper. “There are women there.”
Neither of them actually said the word ‘brothel’ at any point on the way, but when they entered it was clear what kind of club it was. The air was thick with the scent of perfume and incense and the corners were hidden by draped silks. There were women everywhere, dressed like Arabian Princesses in his sister’s storybooks. All were beautiful and every single one looked at Will as if he were the most handsome and desirable man to have ever walked the earth. His blood rushed away from his head.
“Golly,” Oliver whispered and then an older woman was guiding them further in. She knew who they were and, after quizzing them on their preferences, urged them to keep their family names private.
Oliver was led away by a woman dressed like a belly dancer. Her beauty was intimidating. Will was pulled up the stairs by the older woman who chattered all the way but Will didn’t take any of it in, too distracted by the hands that brushed him as he passed.
Then he was in a room and there was a woman sitting on the bed, pale skinned and blonde haired. Her eyes were so blue they jarred him out of his surroundings.
“This,” the older woman announced, “is someone I think you’ll like. Yes. She is come from the Paris court, a lady and pure, yes. Her family fell from grace and I keep her for a special man. You are that special man. I know your family, very powerful, very rich, only best for you. Look at her. She is like a lily, yes?”
The girl’s eyes were empty. There was nothing there, no person, no soul, just something broken trapped in something beautiful.
“Young and fresh,” the old woman said. “Young and fresh!”
Will tried to imagine bedding the girl but the thought was so repulsive he looked away. What had they done to her to make her so absent? The air went from heady to suffocating and Will ran from the room, down the stairs and out into the Nether, running as far as he dared from the building. As he braced his hands on his knees he realised he wanted his first time to be something better, something meaningful. Unlike Oliver, he was willing to wait.
Thanks for hosting, Alasdair!